The New Healthcare Crisis: 26.5M Americans To Lose Their Primary Care

Official Photo of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan/Public Domain

Congressional Republicans have not funded community health centers since Sept. 30, 2017.

Republicans gleefully accepted the $1.5 trillion cost of their recent tax cuts and are prepared to fork over the $18 billion needed for phase one of President Donald Trump's border wall. But the $7.4 billion needed to keep America's community health centers open for another two years? Republicans are currently unsure where to find that money.

According to Vox, the federal program that helps fund community health centers across the nation - centers that serve about 26.5 million people - generally gets its funding alongside the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). But this time, despite the fact that both programs saw a funding lapse last year, only CHIP received renewal in January.

Legislators from both parties have said they want to extend the health centers’ budget. But so far, they haven’t. If they don’t do it very soon, health care access will decline for potentially millions of vulnerable Americans.

Indeed, much like CHIP, the community health center program generally enjoys bipartisan support. Initiated under President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s and expanded under President George W. Bush, the program received yet another boost under the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration.

So what changed?

“It’s all about the pay-fors,” [Dan Hawkins, senior vice president at the National Association of Community Health Centers] says of his conversations with congressional staff. “It wasn’t in the tax bill, it wasn’t in the continuing resolution a few weeks ago, and it’s all about where are you going to get the money? They’re working through that. We hear they’re closer than ever.”

It is possible that the program could see its coffers refilled when Congress seeks to pass a government funding bill this month, a piece of legislation required to spare the government another shutdown, but so far there are no firm proposals on the table.

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